Emplaced vs. Virtual Interpretation

Oof, gotta take a break from negotiating the “visual turn” in text. Sometimes I wish I could just make a film to show at my orals this spring. Anyway, I was chatting with a friend about the recent virtual worlds conference in San Francisco about the world of Second Life and other recreated experiences and both of us expressed some scepticism about the utility of the concept. Admittedly, I am more interested in emplaced interpretation–giving people the tools to better understand the place that they currently inhabit, rather than a virtualized interpretation of a different place, but there is a lot of overlap between the two concepts in new media.

To illustrate, Vassar (a college I actually almost went to, had I not nearly failed out of high school out of boredom and distaste) has brought the Sistine Chapel to Second Life:

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It’s apparently a proof of concept by Steve Taylor for experiencing art and architecture virtually. Neat idea, especially in that you can fly, and aren’t hurried through by crowds and guards. And, apparently, you can sit next to some guy with black wings. I’m curious to see if there is any interpretation, like text boxes explaining the art or the building material.

Lower tech, and closer to home (physically not virtually, I guess!) is the recent Helena Keeffe project which involves drawings of actual San Francisco Muni drivers, along with their stories AND their interpretations of their own routes. While I am interested in the Second Life project, these art installations are exciting and inspirational. First, for the non-Bay Area readers, riding the Muni (bus/train system in SF) can be a full-contact sport, and I’ve always thought the drivers must have near-heroic capacities for putting up with craziness and general mayhem.

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Second, Helena Keeffe puts a face on these drivers and brings their interpretations of the route they see every day to the thousands of people who ride public transportation every day, not just to a select few who go to a gallery (in real life or online). I love that there are maps, annotated by the driver, along with drawings of different incidents which stand out in their minds.

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As an archaeologist, I’d love to harness this interaction with place. As I was riding home from the Pamuk lecture with Burcu and a couple I had just met, Pamuk’s commentary on buildings came up, and the woman (I’m criminally horrible with names) mentioned that she’s now looking at the buildings in a different light, wondering about their histories, wondering who lives/lived there. Yes.

Back to work!

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2 responses to “Emplaced vs. Virtual Interpretation

  1. There is a whole anthropological literature out there on asking people to make their own maps — I always love looking at them.

    I got my daughter to “map” our neighborhood a few months ago — notable features included the cemetery, the mean neighbor lady’s house, the place where she lost her ball, and, oh, yeah, apatosaurus (watch the fictional intersect with reality!)

  2. In CS, it’s called spatial semantic hierarchy…yeah, and there was a cool article floating around last week about the Pygmies using GPS units to map out some of their homeland.

    You might also be interested in doing this with your daughter:

    http://www.storymapping.org/

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